he average high schooler applying to an Ivy League school today is involved in 12, count 'em, 12 extra-curricular activities, prompting the admissions director at MIT to declare that this is not a generation of human beings, but of human doings.

Apparently, their hyperactivity involves quite a bit of travel. Commenting on how quickly young people become jaded to travel, Richard Footner, senior vice president, operations, of the American Council for International Studies (ACIS), said, "It's not cool to say you've seen the Eiffel Tower, unless, perhaps, you're just 13 years old."

Footner notes their grandparents saved for a "grand tour" of Europe as adults, but students today already may have been on the grand tour before leaving middle school.

"When their parents were seniors in high school, they'd go on a trip to Washington, D.C., and that was a big deal," said Footner. "After college, possibly they'd take their first trip to Europe. It would be years before they went back to Europe.

"Today," he said, "we snag them when they're 13 or 14 to do an escorted sightseeing trip. Then, when they're 16 or 17, they'll be returning with their choir to perform in St. Peter's Basilica. They're already getting into experiential travel. In college, they're going to spend a semester abroad."

While groups like ACIS are considered niche specialists, most companies selling mass-market products are focused on the other end of the lifecycle, anticipating -- no, make that salivating over -- the entry of baby boomers into the ranks of the retired. Millions of dollars are being spent to understand what products will appeal to them.

Turns out, 54-year-old boomers are looking at travel in much the same way as 24-year-olds. They're looking for experiences, not sightseeing. Phil Otterson is executive vice president of Tauck World Discovery, a company that -- take note -- both has an eye on baby boomers and recently took the word "tour" out of its name. In the not-too-distant past, Otterson said, Tauck's guests were quite content to just sit in a motorcoach plying New England roadways each fall, looking out the window at all the pretty leaves. "Today, they want to jump in piles of the leaves. They want to hear an expert lecture on the process of photosynthesis and why leaves change colors."

Otterson says there are important distinctions between the way aging boomers want "experience" compared with the desires of 24-year-olds. "The boomers want to get actively involved, but almost all people, when they reach the age of 60, like to have things done for them, and they like to travel among people similar to themselves. I don't know that that will ever change. The packaged, escorted tour is not dead. But it has changed dramatically."

I have trouble conceiving what the packaged tour will look like 40-plus years from now, when the human doings retire. Will they go for extreme experiences that we can't even imagine? Or will they be so exhausted from a lifetime of activity that they'll just want to sit in a motorcoach plying New England roadways each fall, looking out the window at all the pretty leaves?


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